Article Thumbnail

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ Is the Most Romantic Take on Eternal Love

Jim Jarmusch’s moody vampire film eschews the typical blood and lust for something even more primal — the ways of the heart

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

For today’s selection, I’m looking at Jim Jarmusch’s moody rock n’ roll vampire love story Only Lovers Left Alive, currently streaming on AMC+.

If you had to live forever, what would you find joy in?

Adam and Eve are a pair of ageless, undead vampire lovers who’ve seen centuries together but are living half a world apart. And while both share a deep appreciation for art and culture, their approaches to it couldn’t be more different. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) spends his days as a reclusive legendary musician on the outskirts of Detroit, making his music in solitude and collecting rare instruments. Eve (Tilda Swinton), his older wife, is more content to spend her days dancing, reading the classics and gossiping about what a hack Shakespeare was with Elizabethan playwright and fellow vampire Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). But when Eve discovers that her husband is suicidally depressed despite their eternal life, she makes a trip to spend quality time with him, hoping to lift his spirits.

Only Lovers is full of Jim Jarmusch’s trademark sense of cool, but it also shows him pondering eternity and passion with his unique take on vampiric lore. For Adam and Eve, knowledge is tactile — being able to touch an object and instantly know its history and composition is what keeps them moving forward. All the while, they’ve rubbed elbows with the likes of Bo Diddley, Mark Twain and Franz Schubert. In fact, they refer to the living as “zombies,” and in one scene, as they drive through Detroit admiring decaying buildings like ancient ruins, Adam can’t help but lament the desolation of the world they knew. 

The accumulation of all this makes them come off as immortal snobs, but that’s always tempered with a fair bit of romanticism. Eternal life for Adam and Eve is less about rampant debauchery and chaos than most vampire movies (and represented in the story by Eve’s sister Ava) and more about a couple growing together over time. It’s sweet, really — there’s never any doubt as to whether Adam and Eve will stay together, as their relationship has lasted steadily throughout the ages. 

In typical Jarmusch style, the plot of Only Lovers isn’t exactly an arc. Instead, it just lets you hang out with these wise and sexy eternal rock stars. As such, the film is light in conflict, with most of the troubles the couple face coming from Adam’s self-obsessed depression and the difficulties presented by a rapidly changing world.

Blood is present here as it is in all vampire lore, but while consumed blood sends these vampires into a state of dizzying reverie akin to when we humans do whippits, it turns out that the many toxins of 21st century living have contaminated human blood to the point where it’s unsafe for vampiric consumption. And so, Adam and Eve don’t feed from humans directly, but by bribing doctors for pure type-O negative, or as they call it, “the good stuff.” 

Speaking of the good stuff, vampires are typically ranked high amongst the horniest of movie monsters. But Jarmusch’s bloodsuckers are more focused on yearning and survival than lust. If anything, Only Lovers is the most romantic and sentimental take on vampirism I’ve ever encountered. Because for these partners at the end of the world, all that’s left is art, love and each other.